2 November, 2017

Ensalada tropical

ensalada tropical

This is a ubiquitous dish in the beach bars of Spain’s Costa Tropical, using locally grown exotic fruits. It’s a lovely refreshing starter which can also be quite substantial, while providing a large contribution to your five a day. We usually share one between two of us before a platter of grilled fish.

I will confess to not being a fan of conventional fruit salad: a variety of soggy fruits swimming in sickly sweet liquid does not float my boat. Bananas are especially loathsome in this context. But ensalada tropical is completely different: the dressing adds a welcome acidity that complements the fruit beautifully.

The recipe allows for considerable variation. The essentials are crisp lettuce, some kind of citrus, and something crunchy (although apple is not tropical, I think a few slices add the necessary texture). You won’t go far wrong by including mango, avocado and pineapple, in fact I think it’s incomplete without at least two of these. Melon in some form is good, and a few slices of kiwi fruit are attractive. We added persimmon to our last one, and that worked well too. I think passion fruit would be a lovely addition. Other than that, use what you like and is available (although I have to say I have never seen one featuring bananas, thank goodness).

We also toss in some of the handy fruit and seed mix sold as “salad mixture” in Spanish supermarkets (I always stock up on it when there). This usually features raisins, chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, and maybe some chopped roasted hazelnuts.

Recipe for Ensalada tropical »

8 May, 2017

Vegetarian chilli

Adapted from a recipe in the Slimming World magazine — a useful source of low-calorie recipes that don’t compromise on flavour. I cooked my lentils from scratch, but if you’re lazy or in a hurry, you can use a can. A very easy midweek dinner.
Recipe for Vegetarian chilli »

24 December, 2016

Jerusalem artichoke velouté

Many years ago, we grew some Jerusalem artichokes. I loved the flavour, but the knobbly little roots were such a pain to scrub and peel that it was a one-off experiment. But the other day I was shopping for Christmas in the wonderful covered market in Narbonne. Apparently progress has been made in selective breeding of Jerusalem artichokes. One stall had a box of oval pink topinambours about the size of new potatoes. No lumps and bumps! A plan was formed, and I bought half a dozen.

With my idea in mind I had a quick browse on Marmiton.org and picked this simple recipe for its overwhelmingly favourable reviews; everyone who tried it gave it 5/5. An excellent choice: easy to do, and the flavour was exactly what I hoped for. I’m serving it in shot glasses garnished with small cubes of foie gras, as an amuse-bouche on Christmas day. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can garnish with shreds of crisp-fried prosciutto, Iberico ham, or bacon; shavings of truffle; or just a drizzle of truffle oil.
Recipe for Jerusalem artichoke velouté »

19 November, 2016

Spanish chicken casserole

This is a Lucy Bee recipe from a magazine. Described as “traditional Spanish”, it features coconut oil. But I guess that’s because it’s from a book called Coconut Oil: Recipes for Real Life. So naturally we substituted more authentic olive oil. Effort versus results score: excellent. It was really delicious, and a great one-pot meal for cold weather. When we’d eaten all the chicken and veg there was quite a lot of spicy sauce left over, so we had it with pasta later in the week, and it was worth having leftovers just for that. Definitely a keeper.
Recipe for Spanish chicken casserole »

22 January, 2016

Neglected cookbooks: Simple French Food by Richard Olney

Simple French Food by Richard Olney

I was given Provence, 1970 for Christmas and have just been reading it. In it, a group of well-off Americans, all interested in food, gather in Provence in autumn 1970, cook, dine, and have endless conversations about food and wine. They just happen to include Julia Child and her husband Paul, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney. I enjoyed it in a cosy sort of way, eavesdropping on their gossip and occasional snobbery. The author, Luke Barr, is MFK’s great-nephew, and he used letters and especially his great-aunt’s notebooks and diaries, to reconstruct whole evenings of conversation in a convincing way. I have to say that I wasn’t surprised to find that Olney, while probably the best cook of the lot of them, could be a somewhat unpleasant character — his Simple French Food is written in such a way that I never felt I’d be comfortable in the kitchen with him, just as I wouldn’t be with Elizabeth David. Whereas Jane Grigson, MFK, or Julia Child would surely be good company. It was a bit disappointing to find that Sybille Bedford (partner of an old friend of MFK’s) could be rather obnoxious as well though.

Serendipitously, we were looking for a recipe for stuffed cabbage and found one in Olney’s book. Oh, good, a chance to revive my neglected cookbooks theme! I’ve had this book for many years and even blogged a recipe from it once, but I don’t get it out often. There’s no denying the quality of the recipes; it’s the turgid prose that puts me off. The first sentence sets the tone: it’s 124 words long. He’s the kind of person who refers to himself as “one”, and his paragraphs are unnecessarily long and rambling.

Still, the proof of the pudding and all that. Alice Waters quotes him as her main inspiration for Chez Panisse, and by and large I’ve been happy with the results of the recipes I’ve tried. He has taken traditional French bourgeois cooking and turned it into an art form. I have to say that while stuffed cabbage may sound dull, if not positively offputting, it was spectacularly good. So if you’re a fan of traditional French cooking and you can get past the convolutions of his prose style, it’s worth having on your shelf. But if you’re not an experienced cook, I still believe no-one surpasses Mireille Johnston for authenticity and accessibility. Mireille’s is the book that’s splattered with food stains in our house. Such a shame it’s out of print; on the other hand it does mean you can obtain cheap second-hand copies.

Anyway, here’s the stuffed cabbage. We made this with pork mince from organic, free-range pigs browsing under oaks in the Aragonese Pyrenees, which probably had a lot to do with the excellent flavour. We didn’t have much stock, so we just made it up with water and flavoured it with a whole peeled onion and a couple of carrots. You need a piece of muslin or a string bag to wrap the cabbage in, and some string.
Recipe for Neglected cookbooks: Simple French Food by Richard Olney »

17 January, 2016

Baked chicken with marmalade glaze

This is one of those delightfully easy “stick it in the oven and forget about it” supper dishes. Other than green veg or salad, you won’t need anything with it, and even drab supermarket chicken will be suitably perked up. It’s from a Sainsbury’s magazine, slightly adapted by me: the original called for halved new potatoes, but it seemed entirely implausible to me that they would cook from raw in the oven in 45 minutes. So I cut my (non-new) potatoes into 2-cm chunks, and they were just barely cooked in an hour. If you do want to use larger pieces, you’d be well advised to parboil them for about 3 minutes first, but this makes a bit more work.

I cooked this in two gratin dishes; it will serve about six.
Recipe for Baked chicken with marmalade glaze »

21 November, 2015

Cheat’s hummus

This isn’t really hummus, because it doesn’t have oil or tahini in it. But if you’re trying to cut down on fat intake, it’s not a bad substitute, and it is very quick and easy to make using a jar of chickpeas and a few other ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. It’s part of our campaign for healthier nibbles to eat with aperos; we have it with raw carrot sticks, but you can use other vehicles of your choice, including pitta bread of course.

Words of advice:

  • Use a Spanish brand of chickpeas if you possibly can, they are just better. Jars are generally better than cans for some reason.
  • Lack of tahini and oil means you have to really ramp up the spices and garlic to stop it being bland. Don’t take my quantities as gospel — taste and adjust as you like.
  • This makes a lot; I hope it freezes well because that’s what I’ve done with half of it. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Recipe for Cheat’s hummus »

28 October, 2015

Arroz con leche

When in Spain … it has to be arroz con leche, not plain old rice pudding. Truth to tell, the two are almost identical. In Spain, the arroz is always served cold, with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, one of the three spices used in unadventurous Spain (the others are saffron and paprika). And of course the rice used is paella rice (bomba), subtly different from the round-grain Carolina rice we use. Many Spanish recipes specify partly cooking the rice in water and then adding it to the milk, but I don’t hold with that — I like my pudding thick and creamy, and you need all the starch in the rice for that.

TV chef Karlos Arguiñano’s recipe suits me; he cooks it in milk, and the only thing I changed was the amount of sugar (many Spanish dishes are over-sweet for my taste) — plus we had it hot.
Recipe for Arroz con leche »

14 July, 2015

Sunny poached apricots

Apricots

A slightly revised version of a BBC recipe. It’s just made for the tart, red-tinged apricots we get here. Apricots are nearly always disappointing raw, but brief cooking really intensifies the flavour. Baking in the oven rather than cooking on the stove top is gentler and means they are less likely to collapse. I do them when I am using the oven for something else anyway. Do plenty, and store in the fridge for instant dessert with cream, fromage frais, or ice cream.
Recipe for Sunny poached apricots »

6 March, 2015

Pot-roasted chicken and root vegetables

I cooked this based on a recipe from Slimming World, believe it or not, adapted to my own tastes and what I had available. It will be appreciated by slimmers and non-slimmers alike. The vegetables become meltingly soft and sweet, imbued with the flavour of the stock. Very easy when you have guests too, because you can just put it in the oven an hour before the meal and leave it to cook. I added roast spuds for a complete meal, followed by a crisp, simple green salad.
Recipe for Pot-roasted chicken and root vegetables »

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